Moving the Chains.

You know what we could use more of in digital sales? Cause and effect. Intentionality. Some good old fashioned I did this and then they did that.

Instead — too often — sellers go through the motions of the capabilities presentation or the big idea pitch and then expect – OK, maybe hope – that an approval or an insertion order materializes somewhere down the line. What’s missing are the numbers on the yardstick… the measurable, incremental answers and victories that get us from here to the sale. As a result, sellers assign far too much value (and time and resources) to the presentation and not nearly enough to running a great pipeline.

Is your team asking the hard questions that would better qualify opportunities and decision makers? For the customer, there’s no upside in communicating a negative decision. Sellers have to work for the real answers. That work can begin with an Upstream Group sales workshop. It’s easier and more cost effective than you might imagine. And the consult is free. Reach out now to talk it over.

Great pipeline management starts before you even schedule time with the customer. Did they open your email? Acknowledge it?  Have we secured a meeting date? Is there an important date on the customer’s calendar that would create a deadline? 

And once we engage, a new set of questions starts to emerge. What’s the most this customer could commit to if this meeting goes well? What specifically am I going to ask her to do at the end of the call? What evidence do I have that this opportunity is either more or less likely than it was a week ago? What else might we try to learn to validate this opportunity?

Moving the chains on a commercial opportunity isn’t just a nice idea. It’s everything. Planning for the very next decision, the next yard marker, keeps the seller in the present. It tells him what he needs to close on in order to keep the deal alive. It prevents wishful – or even magical – thinking from creeping into your pipeline. It keeps everyone focused on what’s still possible and on making it more possible.

It’s sad when a seller doesn’t get the results and the outcomes that she’s worked hard for. But when she doesn’t even know what needs to happen next? That’s tragic.

Fixing Fractions.

Swinging_strikeoutI regularly quiz my customers on fractions.  Specifically I want to know about ‘the win rate.’

Your sales organization answers dozens – if not hundreds – of RFPs every year.  You turn on the proposal machine, engage your creative and/or marketing people, and generally draw down company resources and good will in order to do battle with a fixed set of competitors.

And for what?   If you’re like others in our industry, the answer is 17 percent.  Go to market a hundred times and you’ll win 17 deals.  Be twice as good as everybody else, you’ll win 34.   So if you are awesome… you still lose two of every three times your organization competes.  If you’re OK with this – and you think your organization can live with these fractions – then stop reading now and get back to your day.  If not, read on.

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There are two ways to fix the broken fraction that is your win rate.  You can continue to try to make the top of the fraction — the numerator –- bigger.  “Let’s not be satisfied winning 34 percent of the deals!  We won’t settle for anything less than 40 percent!”  Good luck with that.  Buyers today are armed with tons of information before they ever engage with you.  And it costs them less than nothing to invite way too many companies into the competition for their business.  A buyer sending out an RFP in 2016 doesn’t even have to buy a stamp:  ‘Control/V’ puts the RFP in to your inbox.

The other way to fix your fraction is to make the denominator– the bottom number – smaller.  Simply being more selective about where, when and on what basis you are going to compete can have an outsize impact on your win rate.  Ask yourself these questions:  how many deals did we pursue last year that we now wish we’d never gone after?  What did those customers or deals have in common?  Had we screened and qualified them better, how many could we have walked away from with zero financial impact on our bottom line? What rules can we write to fix our denominator, which is almost certainly much bigger than it needs to be?

Sellers and sales leaders may reject this thinking for one of two reasons.  First there’s the belief that it’s really a volume game and the more you compete for, the more you win.  In my experience, that’s a load of crap.  Chasing flawed business just taxes your organization while adding nothing to the top line.  Then there’s the irrational fear among sellers that they’ll be somehow blackballed by buyers if they don’t dutifully submit best efforts on every single RFP.  Like most behaviors rooted in fear, this one simply doesn’t stand up either.

Swinging at every pitch does not raise your batting average.  Quite the contrary.  Bring some sanity and judgement to your process and start qualifying prospects.  The P&L you save may be your own.

The Second Deal…First.

The Second Deal FirstConventional wisdom says that prospects who test our products and services grow into great customers later on. But conventional wisdom is always conventional and not always wise. From my experience with sales teams, “test” customers often (a) spend just enough money to fail, (b) suck up a disproportionate share of internal resources, and (c) don’t provide a clear path to future business. And even when there is follow on business, it’s often tied to the low-low rates or miniscule deal size of the test.

I’ve got an overly simple approach to stopping the madness: Sell the second deal first.

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Too many sellers are suckered into expensive, endless cycles of testing by non-buyers who can’t really deliver the rosy future that’s hinted at. So in order to truly qualify the customer and opportunity, I suggest the seller deliver the following message:

“Let’s set aside the test and assume that we’ll do a great job and deliver very good results. Let’s talk about the commitment to business with us that will follow. Can we agree that deal number two is going to be for a budget of X dollars and will last at least X months?”

If your buyer refuses to discuss the next deal or otherwise hems, haws and dissembles, you will have gotten an important clue. It’s possible that this ‘buyer’ – like so many others – doesn’t have the authority to talk about future commitment: he or she may just be running errands for the real decision maker (…who you need to see before this whole charade goes any further.) It’s also worth considering that the buyer isn’t really a buyer at all – at least not for your product. He or she may just be collecting data from lots of companies which they’ll use to negotiate with the sites they already use or intend to buy from. Your hard work could all be building a performance and pricing baseline.

Don’t think this could happen? Perhaps you’re right. But if your recent sales history is littered with a bunch of sloppy tests that never seemed to go anywhere, they are taxing your business, wasting valuable sales time and crushing the souls of the account management and ops people you need so badly. You have a right to talk about the second deal. It’s up to you whether you go there or not.

The Best of The Drift, 2013: The Selling Stuff.

Best of the Drift 2013 The Sellign StuffLast week we began our year-end wrap up with a look back at the top Drift posts related to industry trends and developments.  But as our regular readers know, The Drift also offers hard-core sales advice to those who put themselves on the line every day selling digital media or technology services.  For all of you who drive our business forward based on how you sell, here’s a Christmas Week collection that just may get your 2014 off on the right foot.  Happy Holidays from all of us at Upstream Group.

“The Agenda Vacuum.”   Things not going well on your sales calls?  It could well be that you’re suffering from the lack of a proactive, challenging agenda.  Without one, all you can do is react and respond, which always puts the seller at his worst.

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“Straw Men.”   Looking for some good advice on objection management?  Stop managing them until you know whether they’re even real.  An ounce of qualification is worth a hundred pounds of argument.  Recognize the “straw man” objections for what they really are.

“Being Curious.”  A little curiosity goes a long way in a sales situation.  But don’t just show up with an open notebook and a bunch of questions:  start your discovery well before the meeting and then let your real curiosity guide you through.

“Hacking Your To-Do List.”   OK, so this one isn’t sales advice per se.  But LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner’s list of “26 Time Management Hacks I wish I’d known at 20” is priceless. Here we serve up a few of our faves.

“Don’t.”   Much of great sales performance is about what you stop doing.  So, like, just stop doing all this stuff.

“Once More, With Feeling.”   Stop playing a role and actually care about the difference you’re making for your customer.  It’s amazing how much more powerful  empathy feels when it’s genuine.  In 2014 shake off any lingering sense of cynicism and care, dammit, care!

“Change the Conversation.”   Like Don Draper so often says on Mad Men, “If you don’t like what they’re saying about you, change the conversation.”  But how to introduce a proactive new conversation?  Easier than you might think.

“The Child Inside Your Customer.”   We built hugely complex arguments and decks to impress our customers.  But in the end they have only three real questions:  “What Did You Bring Me?”  “Where are we going?”  And “When Are We Going to Get There?”

“Your Cheatin’ Heart.”   As Rishad Tobaccowala said at our Seller Forum this fall, “In times of change, clients become polygamous.”  How to thrive in a world full of cheaters?  Read on.

“The Fab Five.”   Five things super successful digital people do all the time.  So, again, not just about sales.  But who can’t benefit from a list like this?